It was a dramatic come from behind win in which he overtook no less a star than Alistair Brownlee, then held off a dramatic charge from another of the sport’s biggest names – Lionel Sanders. In winning Ironman 70.3 Oceanside over a stacked field, Jackson Laundry confirmed to the world exactly what all of us here in Canada have long known – he is rapidly becoming one of the best middle distance triathletes in the world.
The race on the weekend is a continuation of a steady move towards the top ranks in the sport since Laundry recovered from a terrible accident at the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, where he crashed on his bike, breaking his shoulder and shattering his scapula.
Less than a year later Laundry dominated the Canadian Pro Triathlon Championship, held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and just over two years after the accident he took fifth at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah.
It looked like that progress might stall a bit in January when Laundry broke his thumb on the last day of a training camp in St. George, Utah, but once again he bounced back quickly after surgery, taking seventh at Clash Miami and then the dramatic win in Oceanside this weekend.
“I didn’t really miss a beat there too much,” Laundry said of his return to training after the broken thumb. “I trained what I could and maintained my aerobic fitness. I swam very, very well at this race – basically I put the injury in the rear view mirror and moved ahead. In hindsight, the rest might have done some good.”
“The swim start was really key – I had practiced that a lot, running into the surf,” he continued. “That was really positive and put me in the right mind set. I knew it was critical to be in the lead group with the guys who were in the race.”
Laundry was able to stay in the lead group of five that was driven for much of the race by two-time Olympic gold medalist Brownlee.
“It was a tough bike course,” he said. “It was hard for the first 60 km – there was hardly any time with the pressure was off. I knew that the course really suited me, but on some of the climbs Alistair was really pushing the pace.”
Even though he was running with the likes of Brownlee and Rudy Von Berg, the silver and bronze medalists from the 70.3 worlds in Nice where he crashed, Laundry said he knew he was ready to compete for the win early in the run.
“My legs were really good right away,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a good one when it was me, Rudy and Alistair at the front. When Alistair surged, I decided to stick to my own pace. I hung close and was able to find another gear with 5 km to go. I picked up the pace and dropped Rudy. Then I was able to get up to Alistair. He doesn’t let you catch him for no reason – I knew I just had to hold my pace and hang on.”
Brownlee wasn’t able to stay with Laundry over the final few kilometres of the run, and would eventually finish fourth after a dramatic charge from Sanders got him close enough to outsprint Von Berg for the runner-up position. As good as Sanders was over the final half of the run, Laundry was confident he would be able to hold Sanders off to the line.
“There were a lot of U-turns on the course,” Laundry said. “I could see he was gaining time, but wasn’t likely to catch me – I could tell that my legs were going to hold up. I was honestly surprised he was able to get into second.”
For Laundry the race was a sign that all the “work and lessons learned over the last few years have paid off.”
“I knew it was possible,” he said. “It was a kind of surreal feeling to have it happen like you’d dreamt about.”
What’s even better for Laundry is that he doesn’t feel like he’s in peak form as of yet. He’ll head to the St. Anthony’s Triathlon later this month, then hit 70.3 events in Chattanooga and Mont-Tremblant before taking on the “championship” season with the PTO Open events in Canada and the US, the Collins Cup and the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George in October.
“I’ve liked being the underdog – people weren’t picking me for the win or the podium at all,” Laundry said of the atmosphere leading up to this weekend’s race. Is he worried about the added pressure heading into races with more of a target on his back?
“I just have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what other people think you can do,” he said. “I need to focus on what I can do and stick to my plan.”